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Auto Focus

For the camera focusing system, see autofocus.
Auto Focus
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul Schrader
Produced by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
Alicia Allain
Patrick Dollard
Brian Oliver
Todd Rosken
Written by Michael Gerbosi
Based on The Murder of Bob Crane by Robert Graysmith
Starring Greg Kinnear
Willem Dafoe
Music by Angelo Badalamenti
Cinematography Jeffrey Greeley
Fred Murphy
Edited by Kristina Boden
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release dates
  • October 18, 2002 (2002-10-18)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7 million
Box office $2.7 million

Auto Focus is a 2002 American biographical film directed by Paul Schrader, starring Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe. The screenplay by Michael Gerbosi is based on Robert Graysmith's book The Murder of Bob Crane (1993).[1][2]

Auto Focus tells the story of actor Bob Crane, an affable radio show host and amateur drummer who found success on Hogan's Heroes, a popular television sitcom about a prisoner of war camp during World War II, and his dramatic descent into the underbelly of Hollywood after the series was cancelled.


Disc jockey turned actor Bob Crane develops a secret personal life, focusing on his relationship with John Henry Carpenter, an electronics expert involved with the nascent home video market.

Encouraged by Carpenter and enabled by his expertise, Crane — portrayed as a church-going, clean-cut family man (though he really never was) — becomes a sex addict obsessed with women and with recording his encounters using video and photographic equipment, usually with Carpenter participating. Auto Focus depicts Crane's life from his sitcom success through his post-Hogan's Heroes efforts to sustain a viable career — mostly in dinner theatre — until his murder in 1978.

Crane's murder remains unsolved to this day. Although Carpenter was tried and acquitted of the crime, he remains the subject of suspicion even after his death in 1998.[3]



The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and was shown at the San Sebastián Film Festival, the Helsinki International Film Festival, the Chicago International Film Festival, the New Orleans Film Festival, and the Bergen International Film Festival before going into limited release on eleven screens in the US, earning $123,761 on its opening weekend. It grossed $2,063,196 in the US and $641,755 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $2,704,951.[4]

The DVD release includes a 50-minute documentary, Murder in Scottsdale, which delves into the initial murder investigation and the reopening of the case some 15 years later.[citation needed]

Critical reception

The film met with a largely positive reception from critics. A.O. Scott of the New York Times said the film "gets to you like a low-grade fever, a malaise with no known antidote. When it was over, I wasn't sure if I needed a drink, a shower or a lifelong vow of chastity ... there is [a] severe, powerful moralism lurking beneath the film's dispassionate matter-of-factness. Mr. Schrader is indifferent to the sinner, but he cannot contain his loathing of the sin, which is not so much sex as the fascination with images ... To argue that images can corrupt the flesh and hollow out the soul is, for a filmmaker, an obviously contradictory exercise, but not necessarily a hypocritical one. There is plenty of nudity in Auto Focus, but you can always glimpse the abyss behind the undulating bodies, and the director leads you from easy titillation to suffocating dread, pausing only briefly and cautiously to consider the possibility of pleasure."[5]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars calling it "a hypnotic portrait ... pitch-perfect in its decor, music, clothes, cars, language and values ... Greg Kinnear gives a creepy, brilliant performance as a man lacking in all insight ... Crane was not a complex man, but that should not blind us to the subtlety and complexity of Kinnear's performance."[6]

Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle called it "a compelling, sympathetic portrait ... Kinnear undercuts the seaminess of the Crane story, and shows us a man with more dimension and complexity than his behavior might suggest."[7]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded it 3½ out of 4 stars and added, "Schrader, the writer of Taxi Driver and the director of American Gigolo, is a poet of male sexual pathology. Shot through with profane laughs and stinging drama, Auto Focus ranks with his best films."[8]

Todd McCarthy of Variety called it "one of director Paul Schrader's best films, and like Boogie Nights ranks as a shrewd exposé of recent Hollywood's slimy underside ... Schrader directs with a very smooth hand, providing a good-natured and frequently amusing spin to eventually grim material that aptly reflects the protagonist's almost unfailing good humor ... Pic overall has an excellent L.A. period feel without getting elaborate about it, and musical contributions by Angelo Badalamenti and a host of pop tunes are tops."[9]

The film has an 72% approval rating on review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 158 reviews.[citation needed]

Criticism by Scotty Crane

Bob Crane's son, Scotty, bitterly attacked the film as being inaccurate. In an October 2002 piece he wrote on the movie, Scotty said that his father was not a regular church-goer and had only been to church three times in the last dozen years of his life, which included his own funeral. There is no evidence that Crane engaged in S&M, and director Paul Schrader told Scotty that the S&M scene was based on Schrader's own personal experience. Scotty claims that his father and John Carpenter did not become close friends who socialized together until 1975, and that Crane was a sex addict long before he became a star, recording his sexual encounters at least as early as 1956.[10]

Scotty and his mother had shopped a rival script for a Bob Crane movie biography. The spec script, alternately titled "F-Stop" and "Take Off Your Clothes and Smile", was written up in Variety by venerable columnist Army Archerd, but after Auto-Focus was announced, interest in Scotty's script ceased.[11]

Awards and nominations

Paul Schrader was nominated for the Golden Seashell at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.[citation needed] Willem Dafoe was nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the Chicago Film Critics Association but lost to Tim Robbins for Mystic River.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Booth, William (March 1, 2007). "A Killer Obsession". The Washington Post. 
  2. ^ Graysmith, Robert (May 18, 1993). The Murder of Bob Crane: Who Killed the Star of Hogan's Heroes?. 
  3. ^ "Motion Picture Purgatory: Auto Focus". DreadCentral. 
  4. ^ "Auto Focus". 
  5. ^ Scott, A.O. (October 4, 2002). "Movies: Auto Focus". New York Times. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Robert (October 25, 2002). "Reviews: Auto Focus". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  7. ^ Guthmann, Edward (October 25, 2002). "Review: Auto Focus". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  8. ^ Travers, Peter (October 17, 2002). "Movie Reviews: Auto Focus". Rolling Stone. 
  9. ^ Schrader, Paul (September 2, 2002). "Review: Auto Focus". Variety. 
  10. ^ Crane, Scotty. "Raging Bullshit: Auto Focus Is Not My Dad's Story". The Stranger. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  11. ^ "The Truth About Bob Crane". Morty's Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 

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